And now? Not so much.
"They're winning -- that always helps," Lee said Monday, less than two hours before he made his debut at first base for the Pirates against the Chicago Cubs. "I don't think anyone wants to get traded to a team that's losing. ... We have a shot at the postseason and that makes it more exciting coming down the stretch."
The surprising NL Central contenders were buyers instead of their usual role as sellers at this year's trade deadline, picking up Lee and outfielder Ryan Ludwick to send a jolt into a struggling lineup.
Lee did just that on Monday, homering twice in his Pittsburgh debut, though it wasn't enough to keep the Pirates from falling to Chicago 5-3. Ludwick went 0 for 3 with a walk following a long day that began in San Diego and ended with Pittsburgh's sixth loss in its last eight games.
The newcomers spent their short time in the clubhouse before the game getting to know their new teammates, with both players impressed about the organization's turnaround.
"It's a very exciting story that's going on right now," Ludwick said. "Being over here, being a part of it, I'm very excited. Playing against these guys you see these young guys as a group come up and you know they have talent so they're starting to put it together."
The Pirates fell 5½ games behind first-place Milwaukee following a brutal 2-5 road trip through Atlanta and Philadelphia. Yet the team that lost 105 games a year ago remained upbeat, the new additions providing a little late-summer buzz to a clubhouse that's been buzz-less for years.
"It's different that we're actually guys trying to get guys. Usually we're people that are selling players and getting them out of here to another team," said center fielder Andrew McCutchen. "So this is new that we're getting players and grabbing guys from other teams. That's different for all of us. But it's all for the better."
To make room, Pittsburgh designated veteran first baseman Lyle Overbay for assignment. The 34-year-old signed a one-year deal worth about $5 million last December but failed to produce consistently. He hit just .228 with eight homers and 37 RBIs this season, his average nearly 50 points below his career mark.
Manager Clint Hurdle called it a "tough" decision to let Overbay go, but said Overbay understood the team couldn't wait any longer to see if he would get hot.
"When a guy shows up, he does everything he can do to work and get better and prepare the team and it doesn't work out, it's challenging and it's frustrating," Hurdle said. "You've got to confront reality and that's what we've tried to do as an organization."
Lee's numbers haven't been spectacular -- he hit .241 with 12 homers and 41 RBIs with the Orioles this year -- but he has something none of the other Pirates do: a World Series ring. He and Ludwick, who hit .238 with 11 homers and 64 RBIs in San Diego -- were inserted into the lineup immediately in hopes of reviving an offense that ranks among the bottom in the National League in average (12th), runs (13th) and home runs (14th).
"We've got the people that we believe can help us move forward and continue to stay competitive and win ballgames and stay in the hunt," Hurdle said. "I think we've been able to bring some balance to the lineup and some depth to the lineup."
The Pirates also made the moves without mortgaging the future. Lee was acquired for minor league prospect Aaron Baker, while the Padres will receive a player to be named or cash considerations for Ludwick, who had to fly to Pittsburgh from the West Coast and didn't arrive in the clubhouse until a couple of hours before first pitch.
How long either player remains in Pittsburgh is unclear. Both players' contracts are up at the end of the year.
The end of the season, at least at the moment, is a long way off. The Pirates are contenders for the first time in nearly two decades and the players know Lee and Ludwick were brought in to help them do more than end 18 consecutive years of misery.
"It shows we're committed to doing this now," said second baseman Neil Walker. "It shows we're committed to making a push in the NL Central and making the playoffs here these last two months."